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I’m Not a Racist But …

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It is pretty much a mathematical certainty that when a conversation starts with the phrase “I’m not a racist but …” the next words out of the interlocutor’s mouth will be some odious statement of bigotry. In fact, the Urban Dictionary points to this curious phenomenon when it explains the phrase is “something an idiot says just before making a comment that proves the idiot is, in fact, a racist.”

So, when John Terry, the England Football team’s captain, pretty much tells the press that he is not a racist things do not look good. But this article is not about John Terry and his alleged racist comments that are currently the subject of investigation by the Metropolitan police. Or rather, it is not directly about Mr. Terry and his legal and moral woes. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no opinion on whether or not John Terry is a racist, still less as to whether he deserves to be prosecuted for this alleged act.

But the debate over whether John Terry should continue to be selected and captain the national team whilst these allegations are investigated has brought a plethora of “talking heads” offering us the viewers their expert opinion; foremost among them is Paul Ince the former England international and Manchester United stalwart. Oh, and did I mention he was black?

The reason I mention Ince’s colour is because, like Tony Fernandes whom the BBC have also quoted on this issue, they seem to be the only individuals quoted – the implicit argument seems to be if a person of colour says a comment is not racist then it is not racist. The trouble is, especially in regard to Paul Ince’s attributed quote, is that he is plain wrong. When asked about the affair Ince commented that “It’s no excuse to say allegedly what he might have said or what anybody says towards black, white, Chinese (people). But if you say things in the heat of the moment it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a racist.”

What Ince’s comment fails to convey is that racism does not need to be linked to any ill intent on the part of the offender. A racist can be well-meaning, charitable, and basically be a good person and still be a racist.

In the language of law the Commission for Racial Equality defined institutional racism by way of the following example: “”If racist consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs or practices, that institution is racist whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have racial intentions.” To be put it in the context of the John Terry saga, if you single out an individual for adverse comment solely because of race then whether or not you subscribe to the odious politics of the British National Party and their ilk you are racist. Pretending it is not does nothing for race relations.

The fact is that if John Terry is found to have made inappropriate comments he should not automatically become persona non grata. If he takes ownership of his prejudice and seeks to change his future behaviour he will have served as an effective role model for the much more widespread “institutional racism” that affects the UK – pretending otherwise as Paul Ince appears to favour helps no-one.

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  • http://alexandria-jackson.blogspot.com/ Alexandria Jackson

    I agree.
    If you feel the need to precede your comments with a disclaimer, then you probably are whatever you disclaim. And if you find yourself making a disclaimer, shut the heck up before you say what you intended!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Not to mention the cringeworthy suffix “some of my best friends are black”.

  • http://alexandria-jackson.blogspot.com/ Alexandria Jackson

    Right! One of my favorites! I have never felt the need to say “some of my best friends are white….” but people who use these phrases are the reason why some of my best friends are dogs.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “But this article is not about John Terry and his alleged racist comments that are currently the subject of investigation by the Metropolitan police. Or rather, it is not directly about Mr. Terry and his legal and moral woes. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no opinion on whether or not John Terry is a racist, still less as to whether he deserves to be prosecuted for this alleged act.”

    So you have no opinion as to whether or not a man should face criminal penalties for committing a thoughtcrime?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    There’s been an offence called “inciting racial hatred” in the English penal code for a number of years, but it’s always been understood to have to entail seriously vile and violent (either verbal or physical) behaviour, not just one or two off-colour comments.

    Terry seems to have attracted the attention of the law simply because he’s a well-known public figure, not because what he said was especially heinous. This is surely a disciplinary issue rather than a legal one.

  • http://www.nicodemist.wordpress.com Casper

    RJ,

    Not sure I am following – noone is suggesting JT will possibly be prosecuted for thoughtcrimes. It is not what he thought that is at issue but what he allegedly said.

    I know hate speech laws have been expanded in recent years beyond what Dr Dreadful says (something I am uncomfortable with) but don’t know the full details.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Because of the crowd noise, you can’t usually hear what players at top-class football matches are yelling at each other, but I’ve also watched many games between teams lower down the football pyramid, attended by anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand people, and I have no reason to think that the extremely colourful language that reverberates across the field at these smaller venues is any different to the verbal diarrhoea of the Premier League.

    Competitive football is almost as much a mind game as it is a game of skill and tactics, and professional players are looking for every advantage they can get, however small. If a player thinks he can say something to an opponent that will get under his skin, a lot of the time he will say it, even if he doesn’t mean it in his heart.

    It’s not an excuse for Terry, but neither is it a reason to launch a criminal investigation against the silly sod.